Job Hunting? Despite Slowdown, Some Hiring Carries On
Like a wildfire, the market instability wrought by coronavirus has swept through commercial real estate, leaving a trail of uncertainty. Layoffs and furloughs have affected millions of workers across the U.S. economy. For candidates in ongoing job searches or those who have been or will soon be let go by commercial real estate companies, that uncertainty hits close to home: Are companies continuing to hire, or will everything be put on hold?
Two weeks into some cities’ shelter-in-place orders, recruiting company RealREPP CEO and founder Johnny Renaudo said conversations with companies and job seekers are still trending positively, despite record unemployment claims.
For clients who've put a freeze on hiring, Renaudo said: "There is a general positive feeling that we’ll be stronger once the situation stabilizes. The consistent theme is that companies are very hopeful and are not planning to cancel positions."
Kaye/Bassman International Construction and Real Estate Managing Director Jeff Wittenberg echoes this optimism, namely because of the marked differences he sees between what's happening now and what he witnessed in 2008.
"In the Great Recession, the entire supply chain was impacted because you couldn’t get money," he said. "Today, that’s not the case. There’s still liquidity in the market. You can still get money, there’s nothing from a business standpoint necessarily preventing deals from being made and projects from getting started except for this healthcare crisis,” which he said is more of a “wet blanket” than a show-stopper.
"No doubt it’s slower over the past two to three weeks, but companies are identifying their candidates," Renaudo said. "Prior to this crisis, these would normally have resulted in offers almost immediately, but companies are holding in this final stage pending guideline updates."
By Renaudo’s estimate, RealREPP currently has 15 to 20 jobs either in final rounds, or with offers expected "once the economy stabilizes."
Here is the situation, sector by sector.
While there may be liquidity at this moment, developers are carefully monitoring signs that it may slow. Wittenberg said that in development, recruitment clients have for the most part taken a cautious attitude.
"Some of our developers have paused their searches until they get better clarity around what the future holds," he said. "Some are hiring for critical needs, and they continue, but on the whole, it's a wait-and-see approach."
On the construction side, Wittenberg said work carries on in markets that have not put a total lockdown into effect.
"Boston shut down the city, but in Chicago, Dallas — cities that have said construction is essential — they're going to take more precautions, but you can still get out to the job site and continue with the work," he said.
However, retail projects are the exception: "Retail has been in a state of flux for a period, and now it’s really in a state of flux," Wittenberg said. "From what we've seen, a lot of the smaller retailers are struggling to make it, so expansion plans of any sort are completely tabled."
In Los Angeles, CRE Recruiting principal and founder Allison Weiss said, "Construction seems to be ongoing, and I haven't heard anything about that side of the business being impacted."
Of course, construction projects' ability to continue differs city to city. "Anecdotally, New York has been more impacted than LA, but they're also a week or so ahead of us in COVID-19 exposure," Weiss said. "And I would imagine those trends will continue."
In property management, Renaudo’s team at RealREPP observed a brief hiatus in hiring conversations with owner-developers and third-party managers, but in cities that have designated property managers essential workers during COVID-19 quarantine orders, hiring is coming back.
As of March 26, Renaudo said RealREPP had extended two property management job offers in the past few days, which he saw as an indication of progress. "We have also seen companies convert temp candidates to permanent employees so they can take advantage of healthcare and benefits," he said.
The industry is turning to some proptech solutions to fill gaps left by social distancing, which may drive hiring.
"We haven’t seen a ton of change, and a lot of these companies have gotten a little more aggressive in terms of hiring," Renaudo said. "We’re seeing companies hiring web developers, UI/UX designers, project managers."
Sonny Tai, CEO and co-founder of Actuate, a company that provides firearm-recognition technology to properties’ security camera systems, said at least for the time being, they are waiting to see what happens.
"The uncertainty introduced by the COVID-19 outbreak means that we want to preserve as much of our runway as possible, since we don’t know how long the impact to customer demand is going to last," Tai said.
The effects of displacement from offices to homes slowed response times to recruiters, but as companies adjust to working from home, conversations are coming back online.
Hiring varies sector by sector, company to company and day to day, and the outlook is evolving fast. But overall, hiring is still progressing, if cautiously.
New relief measures — like a $2 Trillion stimulus bill that promises to relieve retail, hotels and multifamily and IRS payroll credits to reimburse employees for COVID-19-related sick leave — may give job seekers more reasons for optimism.